Court Cites Former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir’s Wisdom in Rejecting Father’s Expanded Access Bid
Some cases I write about here are good for illustrating what to do if you are going to Family Court. But here’s yet another one that falls under the “What Not to Do” category. And – rather uncommonly – the court even draws from the wisdom of an international political figure in making its decision.
In Lahey v. Gauthier, the couple had a brief common-law relationship and had a 5-year old child together. The mother had sole custody, and the father went to court to ask for very broad access rights.
The mother resisted; her concerns understandably arose from the father’s egregious history of litigation misconduct, and his pleadings had previously been struck out by the court. He currently owed her more than $150,000 in unpaid child support and legal costs. Although she recognized the importance of his being involved with the child and admitted that he was otherwise a good father, she asked the court to allow him access only on the strictest terms.
The court held a focused hearing to determine whether the father should have the very broad access rights that he requested. It noted that the father’s misconduct in the current proceedings included willful and deliberate refusal to pay child support or comply with orders for costs, and prior findings of contempt. According to the mother, he also refused to adhere to existing access times, and bullied, stalked and intimidated her. This included sending her harassing emails, in which he essentially trying to brow-beat her into acceding to his request for increased access. He also told the child that she was a “mean mommy” for limiting the time that they could spend together.
The court took note that the father, who was self-represented, had a similar history of misconduct in litigation involving his first wife and their two children. Indeed – as he had in the current litigation – he had been jailed in connection with those prior proceedings for non-compliance with court orders as well.
The court assessed the evidence and made the following observations:
In considering the history of both this litigation and that involving [the father’s] two eldest children, a clear pattern emerges. [The father] feels that he is answerable to no one but himself. As an access parent, he arrogates to himself the right to make decisions that he is not entitled to make or which should be made with the other parent. He is not a “team player” who can work with the other parent of his child(ren) to best secure their best interests. …
If [the father] were to gain the access rights he seeks, [the child] could suffer emotional harm. [The father] would have the opportunity to continually stir up trouble, whether by constantly haranguing the mother, disrupting [the child’s] routines, or ultimately utilizing the opportunity to turn the child against his mother.
While the father denies having berated the mother, his emails attached to her affidavit for trial tell a different story. They show him constantly badgering her about time with the child. He wrote of her “cheating” the child out the right to be with his father and abusing all three of his children. He described her parenting as being “suspect” and falling “short of good parenting”, a situation that he acerbically describes as “not surprising”. He accused her of “…messing up [the child’s] life and his right to his father.”
About the father’s refusal to pay support in particular, the court concluded:
[The father’s] failure to pay support, in itself is not sufficient to deny or even limit his access to [the child]. But it is part of a piece that represents his refusal to consider anyone’s needs above his own. He does not feel that he is financially responsible for his son if he does not have control over the child. He would cut off his child’s nose to spite the mother’s face.
In short, the father was clearly intransigent about increasing his role in the boy’s life and was impervious to the influence of others. Not only did he feel he had a unique ability to decide what was in the children’s best interests, he was unwilling to cooperate with the mother, and would undermine his parenting unless he was limited to a clear and rigid schedule for access.
In contrast, the mother had a reasonable approach, never questioning – and indeed encouraging – that the father continue to exercise the existing level of access the courts had previously granted him. These, she felt, already struck a fair balance in terms of the child’s relationship with his father.
In the end, the court rejected the father’s expanded access bid, adding the following admonishment and recommendation for counseling:
To paraphrase the late former Israeli prime minister, Golda Meir, peace will come to [the father’s] extended family only when he decides that he loves his children more than he despises their mothers. While that happy event has yet to occur, it is hoped that a strict regime will bring home to [the father] the consequences of his behavior. I reiterate to him the referral to counselling that [a prior court] so wisely made to him in 2012. Sadly that recommendation appears to have been honoured only in the breach.
For the full text of the decision, see: